Campus as a Test Bed

Ohio State supports "campus as a test bed" activities, in which the university is a resource for testing and improving new industrial technologies; helping faculty teams to obtain research funding; improving campus operations; and engaging students in cutting-edge sustainability science. Find out more about existing and potential projects at Campus as a Living Laboratory.

A Smart Ride: Ohio State Researchers Develop Automated, On-Demand Transportation

August 10, 2015

Usually, a car or a bus will only get you as far as the outskirts of main campus. Put on your walking shoes — or use a bicycle — to travel the rest of the way to your classroom or office.

Researchers at the Center for Automotive Research are developing smartphone-compatible transit systems that would allow users to summon automated, driverless vehicles to ride to their final destination. (Photo, right: Electrical and computer engineering graduate student Michael Vernier, left, and post-doctoral researcher Tolga Emirler prepare the display screen on one of SMOOTH’s driverless golf carts in the garage at CAR's autonomous vehicle laboratory.)

The researchers aim to provide passengers — especially those with limited mobility— more transportation choices when moving between their initial and final points of travel, often termed the “first mile, last mile” issue. In a successful real-world execution, such projects are expected to create more jobs, optimize public transit efficiency, and reduce the number of driver-related accidents, traffic jams and high fuel emissions in “smart cities.”

As they initialize the pilot project at Ohio State, the researchers are developing a closed circuit of automated, on-demand shuttle driving within the university’s central campus, in addition to a connection between two outer-campus stops. The initiative, Smart Mobile Operation: Ohio State Transportation Hub (SMOOTH), would be a component of a smart city.

Bilin Aksun-Guvenc, a visiting professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering who is working on the project, says the research team is automating two golf carts and two medical scooters as the on-demand, driverless shuttles. TRIP, the university’s Transportation Route Information Program that provides CABS bus schedules and notifications electronically, would be used to see the location of the shuttles and to request them. It will be integrated later with CABS timing information.

SMOOTH, which is partially funded by the National Science Foundation, is in collaboration with the City of Columbus, which has been recognized as a Top7 Intelligent Communities of the Year for the past three years. In addition to Aksun-Guvenc, the team includes Keith Redmill, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering; Arda Kurt, a senior research associate at the Center for Automotive Research; Umit Ozguner, professor of electrical and computer engineering; Tolga Emirler, a post-doctoral researcher at the Center for Automotive Research; and Michael Vernier, a doctoral student.

“This is not just a research project. We plan to operate these shuttles on campus, and later in Columbus, after the pilot studies,” says Aksun-Guvenc. “However, this deployment phase will require more funding. The pilot study will continue until June 2017.”

Success, future acceptance and widespread use require the solution of research problems related to sensing/tracking in densely crowded situations, driving in pedestrian areas using a socially acceptable distance and safely avoiding collisions.

“Right now we are working on collision avoidance and getting the necessary permissions to operate the shuttles on campus,” Aksun-Guvenc says.

The mobile application feature of the system also has to be integrated with the MyColumbus app by developers at the City of Columbus.

Other CAR smart city endeavors include connected vehicle technology, environmentally conscious efforts to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, collision avoidance and social acceptance of automated vehicles, the last two also supported by the National Science Foundation. Center researchers are beginning work with a number of architects and civil engineers to implement their ideas, and their work has contributed to operations conducted by Nationwide Insurance, the city of Columbus, Ohio Department of Transportation and the State of Ohio, to name a few.

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